JACL Mourns Passing of Etsu Masaoka

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Etsu Masaoka was honored at last year's JACL Gala.

WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League is mourning the passing of Etsu Mineta Masaoka, a dedicated member of the JACL, on Thursday. She was 94.

Masaoka devoted her life to the causes that were important to her husband, Mike Masaoka, and to her. She attended nearly every local JACL event in the Washington, D.C. area and most of the JACL National Conventions over the past 60 years. She was at last year’s convention in Chicago and was planning to attend this year’s convention in Los Angeles with her granddaughter, Michelle Amano, and son-in-law, Richard Amano.

Etsu Mineta first saw her future husband on a Greyhound bus ride from San Francisco to a JACL convention in Monterey in 1941 and met him later that night at a dance. After the outbreak of war with Japan, Executive Order 9066 sent the Mineta family of San Jose, including her brother, future Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, to the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming.

She was able to leave the camp and rode a bus alone to Salt Lake City to marry Mike Masaoka in 1943. She did not know until she arrived that he had already volunteered for the Army. They married and then lived in a rented room until he was inducted. Mike Masaoka later said: “Etsu deserves an equal share of the credit for anything I may have been able to accomplish.”

Etsu Masaoka was an honoree last year at JACL’s “Salute to Champions” gala in Washington, D.C. along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, filmmaker Christine Toy Johnson, and Iranian-Japanese American journalist Roxana Saberi.

In 2004, she was honored by Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato, who said, “We must recognize what Etsu Masaoka has meant not only for her husband and family, but what a vital role that she, like her husband, has played in creating closer ties between the U.S. and Japan. I cannot possibly express in words what she has meant to all of us.”

JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori said, “We are extremely saddened by the passing of Etsu, who has been a great friend to the JACL. She and her husband, Mike, have dedicated their lives to the JACL. We are very grateful for the life she has lived and the great example she has been to all of us. We express our deepest condolences to her family.”

JACL National President David Kawamoto added,  “I was deeply saddened when I received a call from the family of Etsu Masaoka informing me that Etsu has passed away.  Etsu, the wife of JACL icon Mike Masaoka and sister of Norman Mineta, is a JACL icon in her own right.”

Mike Masaoka died in 1991. Etsu Masaoka was also preceded in death by two children, Michael and Midori. The JACL extended its deepest condolences to the Mineta, Masaoka, and Amano families.

(Editor’s note: The age of the deceased was incorrect in the original post. It has been corrected.)

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